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Gordon On Racing: Everything’s So Different Today

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 23 2010

Jeff Gordon meets the press in what has become standard fashion in NASCAR. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series in which RacinToday.com’s Rick Minter talks with four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon. During a sit-down interview conducted last weekend, Minter and Gordon had a wide-ranging talk about everything from having at it to rearing children. Parts two and three of the interview will appear Wednesday and Thursday.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A few weeks back in the media center at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon’s publicist, Jon Edwards, and I were chatting about the state of media affairs in NASCAR.

NASCAR’s standard procedure of bringing the top 12 drivers in the point standings to meet the media for a brief, group session on race weekends, is OK.

But it’s not nearly as useful as an old-fashioned one-on-one interview.

Edwards pointed out that even with the demands on Gordon’s time, he still does as many one-on-ones as practical. So we agreed to meet in last Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After exchanging greetings, we sat on the sofa in the driver’s compartment of the No. 24 hauler. I pulled out two well-worn tape recorders (past bad experiences have proven that its always safe to have a back-up) and we got down to business.

I told Gordon that just a few minutes before, a colleague, Mike Hembree of SpeedTV.com, had told me that I had now surpassed Larry Woody as the grumpiest columnist on the RacinToday.com staff.

Gordon laughed and said, “You’re not going to let him get away with that are you?”

I responded that I wanted to hear what he had to say about some of the bigger issues of the day before I decided how grumpy I really was.

I told him that I had reservations about whether it was in the best long-term interest of the sport for NASCAR officials to tell the boys to “Have at it.”

Gordon responded with a history lesson.

“Everything’s so different these days because there’s so much more access to information from the fans, the media, the teams,” he said. “We scan everybody’s radio and listen to everything every other team is saying and doing. And it’s the same thing with the media. You go back 15 or 20 years ago, and if all this had happened nobody would be saying anything about it.”

Gordon said that around 1990, the sport went through a major transition.

“The numbers are growing, and we’re going to be professional,” he said of the thinking at the time. “We’re one of the elite sports out there, and we’re going to be compared to the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball and hockey. We’ve got to be professional. We’ve got to do things a little bit different and expect things out of people at a higher level professionally.”

But, he said, the pendulum swung too far.

“Along the way, that professionalism made the sport a little more corporate and less appealing to the core fans,” Gordon said. “Now they’re going. ‘Wait a minute. Now we need to step back a little bit and go back to the way things used to be where guys took care of things on their own on the track.’

“I’m fine with that. I have no issue with that.”

Gordon went on to explain that in the big picture, there are players more important than NASCAR officials and the drivers.

“None of what they’re doing is affecting me at all, because my sponsors are what dictate my actions, not NASCAR,” he said. “The sport has gotten so expensive, and we’ve now gone to these major companies. Their expectations of us and who we’re representing and how we’re representing their company is what drives how I act out there and what I do.

“I want to win races for them and be competitive, but I also want to represent them well. If NASCAR says, ‘Have at it boys, go out there and tear one another up, matter of a fact, come back in the garage area and have a fight,’ it doesn’t matter to me because I don’t want to lose my sponsors. But if it’s something that is going to be good for them and help them sell more of their product, then I’m all for it.”

Gordon said “Have at it” might work in some situations.

“For some guys out there, that is going to work and for some fans out there it’s going to work, but that’s not who my fan is, so I’m not going to do anything different than I have in the past.”

About that time one of my two old tape recorders ground to a halt, so I reached in my jacket pocket and pulled out a third and pressed “Record.”

“My goodness,” Gordon said. “How many of those things do you have?”

I told him that I have several, but none that are really reliable.

“I can see that,” he said, laughing.

Coming Wednesday: Gordon discusses rivalries, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s fan base and the “Southern” influence on the sport.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 23 2010
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • Aaron says:

    Digital voice recorders, Rick.

  • mike says:

    bring back ray everham.

  • Lynda Lee says:

    Thank you for your article! Having had the privilege of attending a few JG fan club events spread out over so many years that my hair is back to the style it was in the first fan picture with him long ago, I have watched Jeff remain true to the core person that he still is today. Back when listening to scanners at home on Road Runner was new and Time Warner had “In car” access, I got to remark to Jeff about how amazing it was that he kept his cool while racing. He laughed at the time, and remarked that I must not have heard “everything”. With time and ever changing technology, I understand what he meant. It is much easier now to eavesdrop on drivers as they go through a variety of emotions during a race. Jeff’s hair, as does mine, now sports enough gray to convey years of experience in doing his job. As your article portrays him, he is level headed and cognizant of his responsibilities to his fans and sponsors. As a fan I admire him, and I support his sponsors when I make purchases.

    Thanks again!

  • Audrey Davidson says:

    Hi Rick, good first part,Jeff is always forthcoming in interviews.I see your next one is about JJ, should be interesting hearing his thoughts. In fact I have a question[ probably too late for it] but your opinion about it would be nice to hear.I heard a gentleman on a call in to the Despain show express an idea of his for all drivers,he said that JJ gets a bit perturbed when being raced early, he thinks the guys should race him hard right from the 1st lap and then the whole race continue doing it. Also they shouldn’t wait till the last 10 or so laps to race him hard. Do you or Jeff think that would throw him off a bit ? JJ is good but I do think the other drivers wait too long and only up their frustration at not being able to overtake him near the end. I thought that guys idea might be whats needed for someone else to win![ Specifically Jeff!!!!]

    • Rick Minter says:

      I don’t think that guy’s idea will work, because you can’t win if you’re not around at the end or not as fast as you should be at the end. Kurt Busch was going to win Bristol if not for a “debris” caution at the end, and if he’d been slower on his pit stop, he’d have been in the outside line on the last restart and probably would have won anyway. I think the only way that guy’s idea would work would be for everybody else to gang up on Jimmie, and there’s not much sport in that or there would be no satisfaction in beating him that way. And he’s way too cool to get rattled by some scheme to throw him off early in a race. Just my two cents worth.